Expedition: Cadair Idris

The legend says that if you spend a night on Cadair Idris you come down either a poet or mad. Well that just sounded like a challenge!

I’ve long been attracted by the idea of wild camping and also that of sleeping on the hills so this seemed like a great opportunity to do both. I took inspiration from the route taken by V-G Backpacking in britain website. They also have some excellent advice on wild camping.

The ascent of Cadair Idris
The ascent of Cadair Idris

No cooker
One of the experiments we thought we would have a go at this time was not to use a cooker, the idea being to save weight and the faff of cooking. We would either eat things cold or use some chemical heating blocks to warm up the dinner. For breakfast we made up some muesli with powdered milk that just needed some water. For lunch we pre-made some sandwiches and for dinner we had some foil packed meals that just needed warming up.

Day 1
For those not familiar with the mountain Cadair Idris is more or less one long ridge with at least three distinct summits – Gau Graig, Mynydd Moel and Penygadair (the highest). Most people go up the most direct route up the Pony path to Penygadair and down again but why do the simple route?

The fence line disappearing into the mist
The fence line disappearing into the mist

We started from a campsite in the town of Dolgellau and then up a small lane leading to the mountain. This lane was really steep and no picnic! It was also a little daunting that the cloud cover was quite low and so we didn’t even have any real idea how high we had to go.

The road ended and a path leading onto the open mountain started. At first it was well waymarked but at some point signs and then any discernible path just ended. It was then just a matter of using a compass bearing and climbing up into the mist. The climb was really tough, particularly as we had full packs and slightly daunting as it got very craggy and I wasn’t entirely sure I was going the right way.

After a lot of huffing and puffing and quite a bit of sweat we made the ridge and shortly after the peak of Gau Graig. We didn’t get any views however just mist. That was the main ascent of the day over with at least. We then walked off into the mist (which tantalisingly broke for a few seconds every now and again) towards the next summit of Mynnyd Moel which we made by lunchtime. So far we’d not seen another soul on the mountain.

The final climb of the day brought us to the amazingly crowded summit of Cadair Idris, known as Penygadair. There was a school party and lots of other walkers, all of whom had come up the pony path. We spotted the famous bothy and thought we should check it out for its sleeping potential. Ducking our head into the slighty dank interior we found it crowded with walkers sheltering from the wind. It is a fairly good shelter and pretty clean by bothy standards but I have to say that I wasn’t that keen to sleep here.

The bothy at the summit of Cadir Idris
The bothy at the summit of Cadir Idris

As it was so windy and miserable at the summit we decided to go with our original plan of finding somewhere to sleep on the lower slopes. We therefore made our way down the pony path and then branched off when we got to the saddle between Penygadair and Tyrrau Mawr and found a flat grassy area to set up the tent. We were not strictly on Cadair Idris here (which is why i’ve kept both my sanity and failed to become a poet) but we were still some 550m up and it was fairly bleak.

The pony path down from Cadair Idris
The pony path down from Cadair Idris

Day 2
The night was windy and rainy but not actually very cold and we were fairly snug in our little tent. With morning though and with the promise of continuing driving rain it was quite a wrench to leave and go walking again. Without any cooker we at least could eat breakfast in the tent. Eventually our bladders settled the argument and up we got.

The mist was even thicker than the day before but with added driving rain so the walk down to the valley was wet and viewless. I had intended to do a moderate walk looping round and back to Dolgellau which from the map looked quite pleasant but with the weather the way it was we decided to just walk down the road into town and get ourselves a nice warming coffee and a bun.

Barmouth and Scenic drive
After a welcome and fortifying hot drink we called it a day and settled on lunch at the lovely sea-side town of Barmouth before a scenic drive up to Betsy coed and then home to London. The drive turned out to be even better than we hoped as the sat-nav took us down several tiny roads (some with sheer drops) with very picturesque views. Annoyingly the skies had cleared by 1500 and there was a gorgeous sunset. Oh well.

The Cadair Idris project
See the 6 min video of the trip.

No cooking – the results
After testing the no-cooking idea in some rough, although not cold, weather I feel that it kind of worked. I always used to be quite annoyed at sitting or kneeling on damp ground round a cooker that seemed to take a lifetime to boil a bit of water. The no-cooking therefore certainly took a lot of the ‘faff’ out of eating. Another bonus was being able to eat safely in the tent whilst it rained heavily outside.

My jury is still a out on the chemical heaters as they only warmed any food they were in contact with rather than making anything piping hot. If it had been colder I may have appreciated the warmth a bit more perhaps?

The big downside on having no cooker was not having any tea or coffee which is something I really missed. I need to find a solution for this if I go no-cooker again.

Despite the bad weather I had a pretty excellent time and it’s great fun wild camping. I wouldn’t mind coming back another day and seeing the views though!

See all the pictures from the trip.

5 thoughts on “Expedition: Cadair Idris

  1. Your report tempts me to go back and try this “not so direct” route… Amazing pictures, the black and white, especially in these weather conditions, works particularly well!

  2. I spent New Year’s eve 2009 in the bothy on the summit of Cadar Idris with some friends. It was minus ten and was one of the best things we’ve ever done. The photo of the New Year’s day sunrise as we walked down still makes me smile when I notice it on the mantle piece. This is the stuff that makes life rich!

  3. Hi, I found your blog whilst searching for bothys as good as this one. Cadair is one of my favourite walks and rarely fails for epic photos opportunities, especially if you get low cloud cover, or clear skies for a sunset over the sea.
    I stayed in early feb 2012, it was -9 in Corris below, and there was about 4 foot of snow in some of the deeper drifts. I walked the ridge line to the summit and stayed overnight in the bothy – a hard but magnificent day, I’ve since been back and taken the scramble route from the tarn, which has definitely made it on to the ‘must do’ list for wild camping sites!

    Take a look:


    Take it easy!

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